“We must ask challenging questions about how to reform all our public services for the better.” – Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of The Exchequer, during the recent Autumn Budget.
As we entered 2022, it would have been difficult to imagine that the situation the NHS was in then, was arguably only going to get worse. But, with post-COVID-19 elective surgery waiting lists exceeding seven million people for the first time, record A&E attendances and planned staff strike action, most Trusts are focusing simply on keeping the doors open – and given the current cost pressures which are looking set to continue well into 2023, if not beyond, change is now more imperative than ever. Indeed, in his recent speech, the Chancellor made clear that reducing waste and increasing efficiency within public services is now an urgent priority – and within an annual budget heading towards £200 billion, the NHS is on the frontline of the battle to achieve value for money.
While the current crisis is due, in part, to exceptional circumstances, the problems have been long understood. A growing and ageing population with multiple complex health needs is putting extraordinary pressures on the entire health system. Add in the recognised issues within social care that contribute to bed blocking and there are myriad problems to address throughout the system. There is no question that technology could and should be better used to support front line staff. Information sharing is vital, not only to improve the speed and efficiency of patient care but also to minimise the time wasted by clinical staff in searching for and then updating records.
Technology budgets have risen dramatically in recent years, as NHS Digital has encouraged – and targeted – Trusts/ Integrated Care Systems (ICS) to embark upon significant investment to address the gaps in infrastructure. But the investment model has been predicated too heavily on very significant investments in monolithic systems that take years to deploy, require Trusts to completely change existing processes and, as a result, demand extensive and expensive change management programmes. Whilst such systems may be appropriate in some Trusts, it is fair to say that one size doesn’t fit all.
Yes, we are on a significant journey to digital transformation in our healthcare systems, but change must be incremental. This is a hugely complex and diverse environment. Clinicians cannot simply tick a box and follow a strict workflow; there is always an essential human aspect of health care. And, while there is inefficiency due to a lack of interoperability, clinicians across the NHS are using an array of home-grown specialist systems that work.
The questions then are: How can we make use of the technology and systems already in place? How can these solutions be integrated in a platform to provide clinicians with fast access to accurate patient data? Is it possible to continue with familiar work processes and profiles to minimise any impact on the front line? How can we achieve the necessary change in efficiency, quickly and cost- effectively? What they need is an easy and quick way to surface and then share information between existing, trusted solutions. What they need is a technology supplier that can truly partner with them in a way that is adaptable to a Trust’s specific requirements – rather than having to embrace a model that requires significant change to established and trusted work practices.
As we reflect on the events of 2022, therefore, the positive news is that this is a message that is increasingly resonating with Trusts. And, here at Epro, we definitely consider ourselves to be just that, a partner to our NHS clients. As such, as we look ahead into 2023, we are excited to be launching the latest version of Epro, with significant new functionality that will further support clinical workflows and productivity; improve interoperability and efficiency; and reduce waste.
As we all take stock over this holiday season and take (some) time away from the day-to-day working life to spend with family and friends, let us consider some ways to make 2023 a more positive year. Let us be grateful for the healthcare system we do have, here in the UK. Let us be thankful to all those frontline staff caring for those in need, day and night. And let us resolve to, in partnership, make positive incremental changes to both.
From our team to yours,